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Family of Six

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“Morning, handsome.”

James blinked through scratchy, crusty eyes and saw Rose on her side, facing him. Her elbow was propped on her pillow, her cheek resting in her palm.

“Hi,” he murmured, his voice gruff. He hummed when she leaned down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “How’re you feeling?”

“Great,” she said. “It barely feels like I squeezed two humans out of my vag two days ago.”

He snorted. His stomach clenched when he saw her wide, tongue-touched grin. Glancing over Rose’s shoulder, he saw their babies, Hannah and Madeline, sleeping contentedly in their bassinets.

“Wanna cuddle?” he asked. Rose nodded and wriggled into his waiting embrace. He sighed when her sleep-heated body pressed up to his; he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Rose tilted her head up and pressed a light kiss to his jaw, then to his chin, before she strained higher to catch his lips between hers.

James exhaled through his nose and shifted so he could kiss his wife more easily. Her lips were dry and warm and felt so good skating across his. His heart thudded against his ribs as he twined his fingers through her hair to hold her in place while his other hand went to the small of her back.

The hand she wasn’t lying on lazily migrated up his torso. Her fingers skimmed his ribs, ghosted up his chest, until her palm cradled his jaw.

They snogged lazily in bed as the rest of the world faded away. There was nothing but them and the pleasure brought about by the slow, languorous motions of their mouths and the gentle caresses of their hands.

“You know you need to put the brakes on those activities for at least six weeks.”

James squeaked in surprise as he was jarred back to reality. Elizabeth smirked at them from the doorway of their recovery suite.

“I know! I wasn’t… we weren’t… I wasn’t gonna…”

Rose laughed at him; the sound soothed a tiny fraction of his mortification. She pressed a parting kiss to his cheek and patted his chest reassuringly before she sat up in bed. James followed suit, his cheeks still burning. It wasn’t as though he’d intended for the kiss to go any further; frankly, he wasn’t even close to being in the mood to go further. Perhaps it was the lingering adrenaline and endorphins from the birth of his two newest daughters, but kissing Rose these last few minutes had felt better than usual.

“How are you feeling?” Elizabeth asked, stepping fully into the room. She walked up to the two cots and smiled down at the babies within them. She stroked her fingers across their fat little cheeks, then focused on Rose.

“I’m fantastic,” Rose said, beaming.

James’s heart stuttered through a few beats as he beheld her smile. She was truly radiant. He thought she’d been glowing whilst pregnant, but this… She was more than glowing—she was shining.

He slid his hand across the mattress until he could cover her fingers with his.

“I’ve sent their cheek swabs away for testing,” Elizabeth said. “The results will come back in a couple weeks. I’ll give you a call when they do. My guess is it’s going to confirm they’re identical twins, but who knows. All newborns tend to look similar in my years of experience. Especially newborn siblings.”

They chatted for a few minutes, mostly about generic newborn care information that they already knew but appreciated nevertheless. After that, they were left alone to get dressed as Elizabeth went to retrieve the release papers.

While the suite they’d stayed in for the birth and recovery was beautiful and luxurious, James and Rose were itching to get back to the familiarity of their own home. They yearned for their own bed and a kitchen where they could make whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it.

With clean bills of health for Rose, Hannah, and Maddie, as well as a follow-up appointment scheduled, James and Rose bundled their girls up for the trip home. It had been years since he’d had to dress a floppy, fragile baby, but his hands took over immediately, remembering exactly how to position and support his baby’s body to wrestle her into the thick, fuzzy coat he’d selected for her.

“And we’re gonna put a hat on that teeny little head,” James whispered, sliding on the pale pink cap. “And then you’re going to hang out with Mummy and Maddie while Daddy goes to get the car.”

Assisted by a pair of nurses, James and Rose carried their new babies and suitcase to the main lobby of the birth center. With a parting kiss to her brow, James handed Hannah to his wife, then took their bag and walked outside.

The morning was cold and wet, and James ran through the pelting rain to their car. Damp and shivering, he put the heat on full blast and waited until it was blowing warm air so that his new babies wouldn’t be placed into a chilly car. He pulled up to the front of the building, underneath the protection of the overhang roof, and idled the car as he got out to make one last check that the car seats were appropriately installed, then to help Rose.

“Ready?” he asked, stepping forward to take a baby from her.

He cradled Hannah close to his chest, then leaned down to nuzzle his nose to her soft, fresh skin. A nurse, meanwhile, helped Rose stand and escorted them outside to their car, where they buckled the babies into their seats. The girls were dwarfed by their car seats; it looked as though both babies could fit inside one of them.

“There we are,” James cooed as he made sure all of the buckles and straps were fastened properly around Hannah while Rose did the same for Maddie. “Snug as a bug in a rug! Keeping you nice and safe. Though Daddy prays these straps will never be needed to keep you safe in the event of a car crash.”

“Way to be a downer.”

James stuck his tongue out at his wife, then brushed a kiss overtop Hannah’s knit cap and closed the door as quietly as he could. He then moved to Rose’s side of the car as she slid into the passenger’s seat.

“You gonna strap me in too?” she asked dryly.

“Could do,” he mused. He made a show of buckling her seat belt and tugging at the strap to test the security of it. 

“You nutter,” she giggled.

“But your nutter! Forever.”

“I suppose you’ll do.”

James grinned and waggled his eyebrows at Rose before closing her door and moved to the driver’s seat.

He drove his family home, taking great care to not turn corners too quickly and avoiding potholes where he could. Twenty minutes later, they pulled into the driveway behind the multipurpose vehicle they’d purchased in anticipation of hauling their entire family of six at once. Their new vehicle seated eight people, providing them plenty of room for kids and kid-related supplies.

James had barely put the car in park before Robert and Jackie came out the front door, both of them holding umbrellas.

“Thank you,” he said as he slid out of the car and under the protection of the umbrella.

“We can’t have these precious sweethearts catching a cold already,” Jackie cooed, fussing over Hannah’s cap when she saw it was lopsided and half covering the baby’s eyes.

“You can’t get a cold from merely being cold,” James said, rolling his eyes.

“Oh, shut up and get my granddaughters inside.”

He shared an exasperated look with Rose across the car as she took Maddie from her seat.

“Shh, darling,” he murmured as Hannah woke up when he picked her up. “It’s just Daddy. I know it’s cold, but it’s only for a few seconds. I promise we’ll get you inside where it’s nice and warm.”

He cuddled her close, trying to give her as much warmth as he could. Jackie centered the umbrella over Hannah, leaving half of James’s body exposed to the icy rain.

“Oh, sure, you don’t worry about me catching a cold,” he grumbled, glancing over at Rose to make sure she was doing all right. His dad had her well taken care of.

“You can’t catch a cold from being cold,” Jackie parroted sweetly.

He heard Rose laughing at them, but he ignored her and instead walked to the ajar front door. The heat was a blessing as a chill rippled up James’s spine.

“See, I told you, Han,” he said to the child in his arms. “Nice and toasty in here.”

He turned as Rose and his father stepped through the front door, kicking off their wet shoes. Rose glanced at him and frowned.

“Mum, you really couldn’t keep him any drier than that?”

“I told you your mum still has it out for me,” he said gravely.

Jackie swatted at his soaked shoulder, but looked slightly apologetic.

“Here, I’ll take her. You get changed,” she said, holding out her arms.

“Aha! This was all a ploy so you could hold my darling daughter. Next time, just ask.”

But he gave Hannah to her grandmother and departed down the hall to get into dry clothes.

The afternoon passed by quickly and easily, with both babies napping contentedly in their cots or somebody’s arms when they weren't being fed.

When it came time to collect Ainsley and Sianin from school, Robert and Jackie volunteered.

Forty-five minutes later, the front door burst open and two sets of pattering feet raced towards them.

“Mummy! Daddy!”

Sianin launched herself onto the couch and into James’s lap while Ainsley rushed to Rose’s side.

James gathered Sianin close to his chest and held her tight, breathing her in. Though he’d seen his daughters only two afternoons ago, he’d missed them dearly. As he kissed the side of her head and kept her in his lap, he had a jarring moment of realization that Sianin wasn’t his baby anymore. She was his middle child, his second-eldest.

He looked over and saw Ainsley standing between Rose’s legs, peering down into Hannah’s face. The baby was awake and staring up with dark blue eyes, trying to focus on Ainsley. His heart throbbed to see his eldest cooing down at her baby sister and being so gentle as she pressed a feather-light kiss to Hannah’s forehead before she traced her fingertips across Hannah’s face.

“Gran said there was a surprise,” Sianin prompted, drawing him back to the child in his lap.

James furrowed his brow at Jackie as she shed her coat.

“Your mummy, daddy, and sisters being home is the surprise, sweetheart,” Jackie said. “Isn’t it so nice to have them home?”

Ainsley nodded vigorously, but Sianin looked a little put-out, though she snuggled deeper into James’s arms.

Jackie and Robert made a large dinner for the family, which they’d apparently been doing for the past few days, resulting in a fridge and freezer full of meals for James and Rose so they didn’t need to worry about cooking for a while.

While Robert departed back to his own home after dinner, Jackie stayed one more night. She would catch a train to London the following morning.

The first night with the twins went better than James and Rose expected. They’d worried that each twin would wake up at different times, essentially keeping them up every hour, too. And though the babies were in James and Rose’s bedroom—where they would remain until they were sleeping through the night and didn’t need to nurse every other hour—they worried the sound of crying would bother Ainsley and Sianin. 

But the twins woke up together. Or, rather, Hannah woke them up every few hours, and they fed and changed Maddie during those times, too. Because she was still unaccustomed to nursing two newborns at once, James often aided Rose with the feedings, arranging pillows around her body so she was as comfortable and confident as possible.

“I really appreciate your help,” Rose murmured as she sat back against their headboard for the third feeding of the night. “I promise I’ll get better at juggling two of them.”

“I have no doubt,” he answered.

“I’m just nervous about dropping them right now,” Rose continued. “I’m used to having a spare hand and arm. And they’re so bloody fragile.”

“Rose, you don’t need to apologize or explain,” he said. “Since you’re the milk maid—” Rose snorted and rolled her eyes. James knew that if she’d had a free hand, she would’ve smacked him. “—it’s the least I can do to help finagle the kids around. I’m quite smitten with these two already; it’d be a shame for you to drop one.”

Rose cackled and fondly told him to shut up.

When morning came, with no dropped newborns and two slightly sleep-deprived parents, James and Rose pulled themselves out of bed to get their other two kids ready for the day.

Ainsley was in the living room, sitting on a nest of blankets and watching cartoons with Jackie as she cradled a bowl of half-eaten cereal. Sianin, on the other hand, was still dead asleep when James crept into her room.

“Sianin,” he softly crooned to the blanketed lump of his daughter.

She didn’t even stir. He crouched beside her bed and took a moment to look at this perfect little human he’d helped make. Even though her hair was a tangled mess, dried drool crusted around her mouth and chin, and pillow lines creased her cheeks, she was beautiful.

The peacefulness of the moment disappeared as he began trying to rouse her. He stroked her hair away from her face, taking care not to get his fingers caught in any of the numerous knots. Sianin let out a whining moan, tucking her face into her pillow and pulling her blankets over her head for good measure.

“Time to wake up,” he said, rubbing her back and simultaneously tugging her blankets off her head.

“Hmph,” she grumbled, cracking open one bleary eye.

He spent the next few minutes gradually waking her up, not leaving the room until she was physically out of bed and moving to the loo lest she fall back to sleep. 

They got through the morning routine quickly, glad that the presence of the twins hadn’t caused any unexpected delays. Ainsley was already dressed for school and sitting at the kitchen table, chatting with Rose and Jackie while the twins slept in the portable bassinets Rose must have moved into the kitchen.

Sianin joined them a few minutes later, drowsy and still in her pajamas. Her hair was a matted nest, but she didn’t seem to care as she clambered onto a kitchen chair, awaiting her breakfast.

“Oatmeal okay, Sian?” Rose asked, standing from the table.

“Mhm,” she said through a yawn.

“How did you two sleep?” James asked, working around Rose to put the coffee on. “Did you hear your sisters last night? Did their crying wake you?”

Ainsley and Sianin shook their heads.

The family finished up their breakfast, then Sianin and James got dressed for the day. James threw on a comfy pair of jeans and a hoodie, then knocked on Sianin’s open bedroom door. She was pulling on her jumper and hadn’t even begun to tackle her hair.

“Want me to fix your hair?” he asked as she rooted around her room for her shoes.

“Sure,” she said.

“In the mood for anything special?” he asked, finding a brush.

“Hmm… Piggy-tails?”

James smiled and sat on the floor behind his daughter to work on taming her silken locks. She sat still for him as he unknotted her hair as gently as he could; he murmured apologies when the brush caught in a snarl.

Moments like this, where it was just him and his daughter doing the most mundane of tasks, were one of James’s favorite parts of fatherhood. He knew men who would never trouble themselves with doing their daughters’ hair, and he felt sorry for them; it was such a simple, easy bonding moment between him and his child.

“How are Elena and Juliette?” James asked when he saw Sianin was clumsily writing on her forearm. 

“They’re good. They wanna know the babies’ names. How do I spell ‘Hannah’ and ‘Maddie’?”

“How would you spell them?” James prompted.

Sianin was silent for a few seconds, then said, “H-A-N-A and… er… M-A-D-E?”

“Close,” he said. “Those were good tries, though.”

He then spelled her sisters’ names for her—including the full spelling for Madeline—and watched her copy them onto her arm.

“Your handwriting is getting much better,” James said. 

He caught Sianin’s reflection in the floor-length mirror on her closed closet door; her face had lit up in a toothy grin.

“Thanks, Daddy!”

“I’m just about done,” he said, parting her hair down the middle and gathering one half into his fist. “High piggy-tails or low ones?”

“Hmm… high. Please,” she tacked on. “Ooh, and can you put a bow on them?”

“Anything for you, my darling.”

He made quick work of smoothing out her hair and fastening each side with a hairband. Now that it wasn’t one giant, frizzy knot, her hair was curling in soft ringlets.

“Pick which bows you want,” he said, pushing himself to his feet with a grunt.

She hopped up and went to the basket on her dresser. She returned a minute later with two mismatched bows. James shrugged and dutifully clipped them into her hair.

“Grab your shoes,” James said.

When they joined the rest of their family, Ainsley was ready to go. She’d finished zipping up her coat and grabbed her bag from where it was hanging on the coat rack.

Jackie’s suitcase was sitting by the front door and James heard her and Rose talking in the kitchen. She was fussing over Rose and the twins.

“I’m fine, Mum,” Rose said, an exasperated edge to her voice. “I’ve been through this more times than you have.”

“Oh, so that means you’re above needin’ a bit of help or advice?” Jackie snipped.

James winced at the sharp tone, and when he heard Rose’s groan of frustration, he stepped into the kitchen to intervene. Cheerfully, he said, “All right, time to go.”

Jackie shoulders hunched as she strode past him. He watched her exit, then turned to his wife.

“You gonna be all right while I’m out?” he asked quietly.

“Not you too. I’m fine. I know how to take care of my own children.”

James raised his hands defensively. “I wasn’t trying to imply you couldn’t. But you’re still only three days post-birth. Your body needs loads of rest. One baby is exhausting to care for, but we’ve got two.”

Rose sighed. “I know. Sorry. It’s just… Mum always makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, y’know?”

He frowned. “What did she say?”

“Nothing. It’s… I must’ve missed a button on Maddie’s onesie, ‘cos it was all askew and twisted in the front. Mum noticed a second before I did and went right up to Maddie and started talking to her about how that must’ve been so uncomfortable but Gran’s got her and will make it all better. It’s not like I bloody well tried to button it up wrong.” Rose rubbed the heel of her hand into her forehead. “Am I overreacting?”

“I think Jackie could’ve said something different,” James replied. Then he stepped up to his wife and pressed a kiss to her cheek.

Rose caught him in a hug, and when her face was tucked into his neck, she whispered, “Why did we have to get into it right when she’s leaving?”

“I’m sorry, love,” he said, holding her tight. “Give yourself the day to cool down, then talk to your mum. Maybe tell her that you didn’t appreciate what she said. Or how she said it, if that was more the issue.”

“That’ll go over well,” Rose muttered. “She’ll just get offended again.”

James didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing and instead swayed with Rose for another minute.

“I’ve gotta go,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Need anything while I’m out?”

“Don’t think so,” she said. “I’ll let you know if I do. Thanks for taking Mum to the train station.”

“Anything for you,” he replied.

Jackie was helping Sianin fasten the buttons of her coat when he went to the front door.

“I can do it myself, Gran,” Sianin whined.

“I just figured I’d help speed up the process is all,” Jackie said, continuing to do up the buttons for Sianin.

James peeked over at Rose and saw her roll her eyes. He, too, wanted to tell Jackie that Sianin would only get better at fastening buttons if she was allowed to do it herself. But James knew that Jackie was fussing because she cared; it couldn’t be easy for her to leave behind her child and grandchildren after having spent nearly a full week with them. So he held his tongue and ushered everyone out the door.

After James dropped the girls off at school, he drove across town to the train station. Like the good son-in-law he was, he carried her suitcase for her and walked her into the station.

“Right, so we’ll see you for Sianin’s birthday in a few weeks?” James confirmed, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

“If Rose still wants me to come,” Jackie grumbled.

“Of course she does,” James answered. Jackie cocked an eyebrow, so he tacked on, “And more importantly, Sianin wants you there.”

Jackie deflated a little. “It’s hard being away from you lot all the time.”

“I know,” James said softly. “But that makes the time with you even more special.”

Jackie sighed. “It’s been so nice staying with Ainsley and Sianin for these last several days. And spending time with the babies yesterday. But the next I’ll see them, they’ll be nearly a month old.”

Jackie sighed again, and for the second time that morning, James didn’t know what to say. Instead, he stepped up to her to give her a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Safe travels, Jackie. Let us know when you get home.”

He handed her bags to her and watched his mother-in-law disappear into the throng of people milling about the station.

When he got home, the house was blissfully silent. The twins were asleep in their bassinets, which had been set up in the living room, and Rose was nowhere to be seen.

He poked his head into the kitchen and took note that all of the dishes had been done and the table and countertops wiped clean.

“Rose?” he asked, furrowing his brow.

“In here.”

“Where’s ‘here’?” he muttered, heading down the hall towards her voice.

He found her in the laundry room, bending over the dryer to put the clean clothes in the basket.

“Everything go all right with Mum and the kids?” Rose asked, continuing to reach into the dryer.

“Yep. Your mum was a bit sad to go, but we already knew that. What are you doing?”

Rose straightened, resting a hand on her lower back as she did so. “Laundry.”

“Yes, yes, I see that. Why? You should be resting.”

She rolled her eyes, shut the door to the dryer, then hefted the laundry basket onto her hip. “I’m not an invalid, James.”

“I know, but you literally pushed two human beings out of your body three days ago,” he said.

“I know. I was there,” she teased, grinning.

“Bloody hell,” he mumbled to himself. He stepped up to her and brushed a strand of hair away from her face before trailing tiny kisses across her cheek and temple. He used the closeness to pry the laundry basket away from her. “You’re amazing, you know that? Absolutely amazing. But just… try to rest? Please? It would make me feel better.”

“You worry too much,” she said gently. “I’m fine.”

“It’s my job to worry,” he said. “You can help sort the socks as long as you sit on the bed to do it.”

Rose shook her head in mock exasperation, but followed him into their bedroom where they worked together to fold the laundry.

They spent the rest of the day relaxing with their new babies and each other. All four of them cuddled on the couch with a romcom playing in the background. James barely paid attention to the film; he was too distracted with his babies and his wife, who he spent most of the day simply talking to.

“I’m really happy to see you doing so well,” James said when Rose decided she absolutely had to do an impromptu photoshoot of the twins and James.

She beamed behind her camera, then instructed him to adjust his grip slightly to get a better view of the twins’ faces. She took at least a hundred photographs in every pose known to man. Sitting, standing, reclining, laying down, with his shirt on and off. James assumed the latter was more for Rose than anything—still, he puffed up at the knowledge his wife thought he was sexy even after all the years they’d been together.

“All right, enough of me,” James said. “Your turn.” When Rose tried to protest, he said, “Nope, come on. Turnabout’s fair play.”

Rose grudgingly handed over her camera, and James spent the next twenty minutes giving her a photoshoot. The photos weren’t as nice as they would’ve been if a real photographer had taken them, but he tried his best, and knew Rose could touch them up and crop them to make them look much better than his amateur attempts.

They resumed the photoshoot when Ainsley and Sianin got home from school. James and Rose took turns behind the camera to document each other with their children.

“Can I take some of you and Dad?” Ainsley asked after a while.

“That’d be great,” Rose said, her face soft. “Be very careful with the camera. It’s delicate.”

Rose spent the next minute showing Ainsley how to use it, practicing on Sianin, who was making silly faces.

When Rose was certain Ainsley had the hang of it, she joined James on the couch and took one of the twins from him. James wrapped his arm around her, anchoring her to his side. Once the traditional ‘smile for the camera’ photos were done, they began making silly faces too. James had even pulled her in for a long snog, to the exaggerated disgust of their kids. Ainsley snapped the photo though, and it ended up being one of the best ones she’d taken.

“Hopefully that’s not a sign she’s going to try her hand at erotic photography when she’s older,” James murmured into Rose’s ear when they saw the series of photos of them kissing.

Rose smacked his chest but laughed loudly.

“What’s so funny?” Ainsley asked, frowning. She stepped up behind them to look at the photos. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, no, love,” Rose assured. “These are absolutely beautiful. Your dad was just being his usual ridiculous self.”

“You did a really great job, Ainsley,” James praised, which made Ainsley flush with pride.

“I wanna try!” Sianin said, clambering onto the couch.

While Rose showed their five-year-old how to use the camera, James wrapped his arms around Ainsley and tucked her into his lap. She still fit comfortably, small as she was, despite being nine years old.

“Are you excited about being a big sister again?” he asked, absently rocking them from side to side. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah,” she said, beaming. “Do you like being a dad?”

“It’s all right, I suppose,” he said nonchalantly. He nuzzled his cheek against hers, scraping his day-old stubble across her soft, smooth skin. She squirmed in his lap, pushing his face away. He relented with a kiss to her cheek. “Being a dad is the best part of my life.”

Ainsley relaxed back into his arms, content to sit in his lap while Rose continued talking Sianin through basic functions on the camera.

“Let’s get one of Daddy and Ainsley,” Rose whispered.

“Why do you like taking pictures?” Sianin asked.

“It’s fun,” Rose answered, shrugging. “Like how you enjoy playing with your cars, I enjoy taking photos. This camera is basically an adult toy.”

James choked down a laugh, earning him a stern look from his wife, but he saw the mirth dancing in her eyes.

After first smiling at the camera, he and Ainsley turned their attention to the television; James knew Rose adored getting profile and candid shots.

Sianin spent a few more minutes taking photos before she got bored and handed the camera back to Rose. She then slid to the floor and asked Ainsley to play with her.

With their two eldest children occupied and their two youngest children asleep, James and Rose went off to sift through the photos they’d taken that day. Together, they compiled their absolute favorites, and after some minor touch-ups from Rose, she printed them out on her specialized photograph printer.

After everything was printed and dinner was in the oven, James and Rose settled at their kitchen table to update everyone’s photo albums. Barring several ultrasound photos and the hospital-issued birth photo, these were the first pictures to go in the twins’ albums.

James and Rose updated Ainsley’s and Sianin’s latest albums, as well as the family album.

“A bit saucy for a family album, innit?” James teased when she pasted in the photo Ainsley had taken of them kissing.

“Oh shut it. It’s not like we put screenshots from a sex video in here,” Rose said, flicking his arm.

“Well, now you mention it…”

Rose smacked him this time, and James giggled before he dutifully continued taping photographs of his beautiful family into the book.